As I continue my synthesis of ideas from the class blog , I should mention that you all have written lots of great stuff about many subjects including games, podcasting, multimedia and so on, but I will ignore all that for now in favor of what supports, expands or challenges the ideas I have been developing about my own teaching methods which seem particularly relevant to teaching a face to face, textually based writing class with online support.
What stood out from this week’s reading was the idea of asking students to write about their favorite posts or posters on the class blog. Rather than allowing to vanish over time, the assignment forces students to look back over the work the class has produced. Such an exercise has two important functions: it reviews the material, develops critical skills and encourages the social production of knowledge.
I would recommend a variation that would add another important skill, synthesis: students could review the blogs from the course and pull out ideas that seem most significant. Since my final project is an overview of the salient points of the course, along with some of my own new ideas, I thought I would mine your posts for the most relevant concepts for my own purposes (teaching face-to-face, text-based classes with online support), which I would then possibly include in my final paper. Such recycling of material fits in with my developing idea that teachers should encourage students to use the smaller pieces of writing, both their own and that of others in the class, to create a larger whole in an integrated and continuous process.
Even though Scott Warnock’s book Teaching Writing Online: How & Why focuses on writing classes that take place entirely over the internet and hybrid classes which are about half online and half in person, any writing teacher in the digital age can glean important advice from his book on how to update and enhance their own teaching practices. Here are some suggestions I thought I would adopt and, in many cases, adapt, with comments and musings about why they are significant.
What are new literacies? How do new literacies differ from old ones? How does this affect how we write and how we teach writing? To address these questions, I will examine three articles: “‘New’ Literacies: Research and Social Practice” by Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel, “Sampling ‘the New’ in New Literacies” by the same authors from the New Literacies Sampler, and “Looking from the Inside Out: Academic Blogging as New Literacy” by Julia Davies and Guy Merchant, also from the New Literacies Sampler.
First of all, there has been a massive proliferation of kinds of texts and textual spaces. Usually the term “new literacy” is associated with recent computing and communications technology; however, new literacy is not limited to new technology. Technological forms of new literacy, as listed by Lankshear and Knobel, include: blogs, webpages, synchronous forms of communication (chat and instant messaging), asynchronous forms (email and discussion boards), and digital multimedia forms. Other types of new literacy are: zines, fan fiction, critical literacy, memes, scenario planning (business applications, for example), and adbusting. It is important for writing teachers to acknowledge the fact that students are reading more and producing more writing, in different styles, tones, and registers and for a wider range of purposes, than ever before. Rather than dismissing texting or fanfiction as inapplicable to academic writing, teachers should show students how to translate skills they already have, for example narrative and persuasive abilities (what I did today and why we should go see this movie), into a different kind of writing. However, writing itself is changing in response to new literacies.
Recently a professor told me to consider my audience. She said that my style was far too informal for a grad paper. I needed to consider what writing was appropriate for academic discourse. Academic discourse? Who did she think I was writing to? She was my only reader. I felt, then, that I could play around a little bit with the essay form, experiment a little. I even included a couple of allusions that only she would understand. It did not work. She wanted me, I realized, to speak into an imaginary space where scholars speak, not to each other, but into an imaginary library of information.
In comparison, in another class, we formed workshops for the papers, then posted our final papers in forums for everyone to read, and finally presented our papers to the class in a mock-conference. At last, I was writing to a real audience and it made all the difference. In that paper I also experimented with form, included jokes, and even wove in a couple of mysteries for the readers (since it was a class on mystery). My paper was academically rigorous, but it was also enjoyable. Some even said it was fun to read because I considered my audience, as I had been told all my school life to do.
In the article “Clive Thompson on the New Literacy,” the author claims that the internet is not killing our ability to write, it is reviving it. People are writing more than ever before through email, text messages, Twitter, Facebook, and so on. More importantly, writers these days are more aware than ever of their audience. Before, people wrote for teachers and almost no one else. Now, Thompson says writers are composing for a much wider range of purposes and readers and they are adapting tone and technique to the audience. In “CCCC Position Statement on Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Writing in Digital Environments”, the writer stresses that all writing is social. This was also true in the past; the difference now is that instead of writing for one person, the teacher, we are writing for our fellow students and possibly, as in this blog, others outside of the class and even outside of the university.
There has been a fundamental shift in the writing and learning process. Instead of doing research and composing only to prove something to a teacher, who presumably knows much more than the student and may have considered the issues in question, a student is sharing information, sharing their observations and insights with others in the class and, in turn, learning from them. It is the interaction, which is important. The digital age can create a revolution in academic writing. We do not have to write to an imaginary space called “academic discourse,” we can write for each other.